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  • Writer's pictureSabrina Riley

Lessons From My Grandfathers

"Matriarchs" established that the women in our family are the storytellers. That doesn't mean the men have taught us any less. Their lessons have been communicated by actions more than words.

Our two grandfathers were opposites in many ways. Grandpa Alson Eugene Pusey (1918-2009) was a life-long Seventh-day Adventist who was raised in town, the son of a factory worker. He grew up to earn a college degree and become a teacher. Grandpa Paul C. Fox (1920-2009) was raised a country farm boy, achieved only an eighth grade education, and grew up to become a mechanic who seldom attended church. Grandpa Pusey avoided social gatherings, hiding in a corner with a book or magazine if he could not stay home. Grandpa Fox might not have been the life of the party, but he was an inveterate people watcher and he always had a few observations about everything he saw. Grandpa Pusey enjoyed puttering around a kitchen. Grandma Lois always worried Grandpa Fox wouldn't even be able to heat up a TV dinner if she was not home to fix him a meal.

But they also had much in common. For both of them, their attitudes about money and possessions were shaped by having lived through the Great Depression. They both served in the United States Army during World War II and were posted to the Pacific Theater–experiences that created memories they talked about until the ends of their lives. They both valued self-education through reading, radio broadcasts, and educational television programming. And they both lived lives that taught their grandchildren valuable life lessons, probably without realization of the legacy they were leaving.

Lesson 1: Ingenuity

Growing up during the Great Depression taught both of them to make do or do without. Besides teaching, Grandpa Pusey learned basic carpentry skills on several jobs he held during the 1950s in Maryland. Those skills were used to entertain his grandchildren a few times. When his second granddaughter was a baby, he rigged a wooden box on an old-fashioned sled so she could ride it with her big sister, Sabrina, while Grandpa pulled. When this same granddaughter and her younger sister, Andrea, were enamored with the wooden trucks he made from a kit for their cousin, he figured out how to make similar trucks from scrap lumber for the girls. We loved these trucks every bit as much.

Grandpa Fox was so used to cobbling together custom auto parts as a young man, this was his first approach even later in life when interchangeable replaceable auto parts were readily available at a nearby store.

Lesson 2: Patience–a virtue for which neither man was known

In fact it was their lack of patience that required those of us around them to acquire more patience. Grandpa Fox had no tolerance for misbehaving children. When vacationing together we children had to put up with miserable travel conditions without whine or complaint for Grandpa's sake. And when Grandpa Pusey prayed for minutes-without-end in the language of the old King James Bible, we had to kneel quietly and respectfully for the duration.

Lesson 3: Dependability

So in all honesty, Grandpa Pusey might have shown up for every major family event because Grandma dragged him out of the house. But he was always present for holidays, the births of grandchildren, baptisms, weddings, and family gatherings, not to mention camp meeting and attending church whenever the doors were open. And I don't recall him once complaining about all of the places he went because Grandma wanted to be there, whether a side trip through the Muskegon waste water treatment plant on the way home from church–no joke, this is a major venue for birders and Grandma wanted to visit on a weekly basis, reading his way across Europe–much to the annoyance of his travel companions who could not believe he was ignoring the sights in favor of a book he could have stayed home to read, and road trips across the United States.

Just the same, Grandpa Fox acquired a reputation for knowing how to fix just about every engine in Volinia, Michigan. But more importantly he was present every time his granddaughters needed him. As a new driver with a flat tire and Dad out of communication in the days before cell phones, Grandpa Fox was sure to be home and answer his phone. I (Sabrina) might have apologized over and over for calling him and even having a flat tire in the first place, but he reassured me it was no problem. Motorists get flat tires all the time. Nothing to be upset over–a lesson I didn't really learn because I still obsess over flat tires. When his youngest two granddaughters spent their first evening home alone, they panicked and who better to call than Grandpa and Grandma Fox. They traveled three miles in a heartbeat to reassure their granddaughters.

Lesson 4: Generosity

Grandpa Pusey never spent a cent on himself if he could avoid it. But when it came to church and family he was generous with his funds. More than one child received a church school education because of him. And more than one family member received an interest-free loan to finance an essential home improvement, college education, or a car.

As long as Grandpa Fox had the energy and health to do so, he tinkered with every engine a neighbor brought to him. What he lacked in funds, he made up for in gifts of his time, knowledge, and skill.

Both men could be harsh at times, and at other times we might make fun of their eccentricities. Grandpa Fox was an overly cautious person–he only drove on back roads and with the exception of trips to his family's stomping grounds "up north" (northern Michigan), he did not drive more than a 30-mile radius around his home. Grandpa Pusey was endlessly inconsistent. He always drank soy milk, but he could be counted on to have dairy cottage cheese and ice cream in the house. But we never doubted their love for us expressed through their actions, and once in awhile even a twinkle in their eyes. The lessons we learned from them are indelible and precious memories.

Alson Pusey and Paul Fox at a family gathering about 2002.

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